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Compass: Cast a cold eye on Fire Island wind buy

Chugach Electric Association (CEA) Board Chair Janet Reiser’s Compass piece on the Fire Island wind farm (May 3)) is one view of the project. There are others.

With the Power Sales Agreement on Fire Island, CEA has opted to make the entire system less reliable, electricity more expensive, and unstable, all in the name of pursuing some ephemeral goal of renewable energy. Chugach members get to pay more for the privilege of powering homes and businesses. Chugach also shoulders the responsibility for integration of highly variable and unstable electric output from Fire Island into the existing system.

This is hardly a victory for consumers.

Integration of wind energy into the Southcentral grid requires spinning reserve online, instantly available to counter the minute by minute variations in electrical output from the wind turbines. Most of this is provided by hydro generation at Bradley Lake. Some is provided by natural gas fired turbines. The more wind energy we attempt to integrate into the system, the more natural gas we will be burning, idling the turbines attempting to keep the system from suffering brownouts. The more wind we attempt to integrate, the less system design margin we have available during any emergency.

Before CEA and Municipal Light & Power (ML&P) embark on negotiations on Phase II of the Fire Island wind project, it would be prudent to see how it has worked out so far for CEA. How did the actual electricity production compare with the expected production? How did integration go? Were there any pleasant or unpleasant surprises? Any unanticipated costs? If so, what were they and why? What is CIRI’s profitability on this project? Better yet, what is an acceptable level of profitability for an independent power producer, especially since this one angling for another contract, tapping into CEA rate payer pocketbooks for a quarter century to come.

Most of this information exists in CEA as internal planning documents. Perhaps they should release all of them to the membership so that we all know precisely what is going on.

Finally, the movement for renewable energy was driven by a belief that fossil fuel availability was limited and would soon run out. This belief is now obsolete given the nearly limitless supply of natural gas and coal, the former via the fracking boom. Perhaps it is time to allow wind to sink or swim on its own economic merits. And something that costs more, renders the system less stable, and reduces the system design margin is hardly a positive economic solution.

Alex Gimarc is a former member of the Chugach Electric Association board of directors.